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Guy Ferrandis/Mars Distribution

MOVIE REVIEW
Venus in Fur (2014)

Roman Polanski revisits his fascination with the psychosexual realm in a big-screen adaptation of David Ives’s Off-Broadway two-character piece “Venus in Fur,” which itself is a meta-reimagining (think Charlie Kaufman) of Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novella “Venus in Furs” that famously spawned the term masochism.

Mathieu Amalric plays Thomas, a playwright and theater director in search of an actress for his Sacher-Masoch adaptation. Just as the pool of talents auditioning fails to produce the perfect fit, Emmanuelle Seigner’s mysterious Vanda shows up unannounced, late and disheveled. Although the flightiness she exudes seems ill-suited for the role of Wanda von Dunayev, she not only plays it perfectly but possesses contemporary insights into Sacher-Masoch’s text that Thomas’s literary mind lacks.

While Mr. Ives’s novel approach to the stage reimagining may have been out of the necessity of the medium, Mr. Polanski’s straight film adaptation of Mr. Ives’s play seems gratuitous — unless, you want to count the psychosexual theme that’s a given and also the confines of stage that have seemingly come to define Mr. Polanski’s post-house-arrest canon.

Perhaps he is more drawn to Mr. Ives’s quasi-feminist rationalization of sexual fetish than Sacher-Masoch’s explanation of it as mastery over repressed feelings, and somehow sees parallels between the play and his own sexual felony. However subliminal and unintentional this might be, the projection is hardly excusable. Although the play suggests both slave and master are equally culpable, that relationship is at least consensual.

VENUS IN FUR

Opens on May 30 in Britain and on June 20 in the United States.

Directed by Roman Polanski; written by David Ives and Mr. Polanski, based on the play by Mr. Ives; translation by Abel Gerschenfeld; director of photography, Pawel Edelman; edited by Margot Meynier and Hervé de Luze; music by Alexandre Desplat; production design by Jean Rabasse; costumes by Dinah Collin; produced by Robert Benmussa and Alain Sarde; released by Curzon Film World (Britain) and Sundance Selects (United States). In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is rated 15 by B.B.F.C. and not rated by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Emmanuelle Seigner (Vanda) and Mathieu Amalric (Thomas).

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